What is a story?

After hearing Alan Levine (@cogdog) as a guest presenter in our EDCI569 course this past week I have found myself reflecting on mIMG_1784y own teaching. The focus of his presentation was on digital storytelling and the myriad of ways in which students can ‘tell’ a story. I am currently immersed in teaching a Grade 1 fairy tale unit and am trying to reconcile Alan’s forward thinking, innovative ideas with my current lessons which are teaching students the ‘correct’ way to write a story. The BC Grade 1 outcomes state that students need to know that stories include characters, settings, problems and solutions. I like to use a unit on fairy tales to explore storytelling and writing. One of the first lessons I do is to ask the students “what is a fairy tale?” We divide our class books into piles of yes, no, maybe and have great debates and conversations regarding the genre. The student responses are always interesting and are often based on the latest Disney movie. My 6 year old students are convinced that ‘Rapunzel’ the story was based on ‘Tangled’ the movie rather than the other way around. When we begin to explore the historical basis on fairy tales and add the element of medieval times students begin to see the importance of oral traditions and the timeless power of language. Learning about jesters and minstrels has helped them to see that stories can be told in many different forms. Students who have difficulty writing will often amaze me by standing up and singing a story, others will act out a tale with puppets, or dance a story.  I have tried this year to offer more story telling options such as having the students build a story using materials, paint a story, mime a story. We have a classroom full of costumes to retell and act out stories. Using apps such as Puppet Pals,  Story Creator and Stop Animation has allowed technology to provide another vehicle for their ideas. We are now beginning to write our stories and I can already feel some of the magic leaving. The strong writers will be fine but it is the students with the wonderful imaginations who struggle to print that I worry about. How can I help them learn the necessary skills of printing and story structure without squashing the joy of the story? Currently I try to separate aspects of writing into different areas because at this age it is impossible to do it all at the same time. So we focus on beautiful printing in our printing books, and practice our best spelling in our spelling books. We also have writer’s visual notebooks for drawing our ideas about stories and  journals for printing our ideas. I will conference with students individually as they are writing to work on editing and coherence but am careful to pick only one or two things at a time. Alan helped to reinforce for me that there is no one way to tell a story. I am thankful for that reminder as I sit down to write my report cards. Yes Johnny’s letters go off the lines, and his punctuation is non-existent, but boy can he tell a good story.


One thought on “What is a story?

  1. Jake February 15, 2015 / 6:00 pm

    Loved the new digital storytelling lens that Alan brought to class last week too! I think it is awesome that you have the time and resources to incorporate play and imagination into your storytelling in your class! Isn’t that what learning in the primary grades be about anyways? My takeaway was using the visuals to prompt or focus the student learning. That’s the best thing about learning, that it is personal and we all take something a little different away from hearing the same lecture. Great post!


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